Rich Clark Marketing

Opinions from Rich Clark one of the UK's leading Marketing Professionals

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Social Media – Beyond the Numbers Game

For too long, when brands have looked at their social media strategy they have been obsessed over their Facebook fan numbers or likes.  This is in part to prove their investment is worthwhile to their management teams or boards.  The other component to the equation is that of bragging rights.  I have sat in many meetings as an independent and heard many organisations talking Facebook and Instagram likes, albeit (I hope) by the way of banter, but it still adds weight to the value brands place on this as a measure of success.

Social Media Icons on a mobile

Social Media – Beyond the numbers

The key to social media success isn’t how many people like your page or posts.  A better success measure is how entrenched your social media activity becomes in your audiences every day life.  That may be through sharing, return visits, recommending or generating conversation.  For me social media can offer so much to both customers and brands, in fact the media half of the term is a little bit of a red herring.  Social Media is another digital channel, just as websites were when the web first gained momentum.

Of course, it isn’t just likes people talk about. A large number of brands will still obsessing over the number of fans, followers, friends or likers they have, now understand that they need people to interact.  With this in mind, they have started to measure what they deem engagement.  The standard ways most brands look at engagement is how many times a pic on Instagram has been liked.  How many retweets their post has had or how many shares their Facebook post has received.  All of which is interesting, but in essence, its not really engagement.  How many of us have personally, or have observed people just double tapping the insta post, without really reading or viewing the content properly.

For me, engagement isn’t even just about the buzz or sentiment we measure. It is about the genuine affinity our customers or social crowd feel towards us and/or their likelihood to recommend us.  This really can’t be measured through standard social metrics.  However, if we really do have a highly engaged Facebook page (for instance) then it goes without saying these people should eulogise about us, at least our content and hopefully also our brand.  With this in mind, our followings should increase on an organic basis.  So engagement in isolation isn’t enough.

However the crux of all of this text is, we need to start thinking beyond the numbers.  We need to care about them as we are targeted on them and often its what investment decisions are made of. But, we as profession, Marketing Professionals are increasingly worried about making marketing decisions without reams of data to support us.

Some things we need to do to help us grow, to accelerate growth is to make decisions that have no or little data.  If we only look back at data on what has happened, or compare ourselves to the success or failures of our peers we are instantly constraining our thinking and our ability to innovate.

If you as marketing people know your audience well enough, you should succeed.  If you as marketing professionals speak to your audience, they can help you succeed. If you as marketing professionals allow your audience to collaborate with you and help produce content, you will get what they want and they feel bought in. In theory that should bring even more success and a feeling from content providers they are part of your brand.

Remember one key thing for your social channels. Be credible.

Produce content that your audience will want to see. Engage and communicate with your audience to understand what they want. Work with your audience and they can help you produce what they want. With this in mind, I think we can look beyond the numbers of social media and produce better content, have better engagement and ultimately drive the numbers after all.

Love to hear your thoughts on this. Please feel free to challenge, critique argue or endorse by adding comments here or by tweeting my @richclarkmktg

 

 


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Worth A Comeback?

Worth A Comeback?

I haven’t been looking at this blog for quite some time now.  I have been concentrating on the successful launch of Music Eyz and helping others with their approach to their content and social media.

Its been over two years since my last post and the world has come a long way, both the real world and the digital world.  The economy has gone through a recession and appears to be out the other side.  London has hosted a “really successful” Olympic Games and Man Utd aren’t the best football team in the country any more.  (Before anybody says it, yes I know Spurs aren’t either).

The things is, whilst there has been a lot of change in the real world, the digital world has evolved at an alarming rate.  The mainstays of digital marketing PPC and affiliates, whilst still important, are being rivaled.  The world of content, on-site merchandising and social media are massive tools in every digital professionals armoury.

Image of Word content made of dice

Content is King

Whilst their can be many explanations for the rise in importance of the newer disciplines, the two key ones for me are Google and customers.

Either way, one of the reasons I stopped blogging was because, in my view, there was little value to be added to the discussions around the main digital acquisition channels.  Yes my experience is extensive and some people may have found the insight interesting or even useful, but you could get that from anywhere.  My inspiration for a comeback is that very few people have produced great content relating to content, merchandising and genuine views on the commercial aspects or quality of Social Media.

Now this post isn’t meant to be self-idulgent.  This post is genuinely to get my thoughts and potential direction of the blog on a screen.  Just to see if this makes sense and is “Worth A Comeback”  If you are reading this, I would love to hear your views.  Do you think I should kick this off again?  Do you agree about my sentiment around a lack of quality resource in this space? Am I wasting my time and yours?

I may just do it anyway, but would be great to hear from you all.

But in the words of LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years”

LL Cool J Mama Said Knock You Out

LL Cool J Mama Said Knock You Out

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What Happened to Foursquare?

Whilst considering approaches for our clients Social Media strategies, I was doing the usual thing of wondering what platforms would suit their customer base and of course the objectives of their activity.  At one point last year people were heralding the dawn on a new era.  Social Media was finally finding its feet and earning its commercial water wings. Not in a traditional digital marketing sense, but in a multi-channel sense.  What was driving this, the advent of Foursquare.

Foursquare Logo

Foursquare was the new thing we all needed to get excited about.  Taking people’s passions and love for social media and melding itwith their new found love with smartphones and a pinch of real-world and the ingredients were there for a winning combo.  Or so we thought.  This view was backed up by the decision in August 2010, at Facebook to launch their Foursquare killer, Facebook Places.

Easy to say it now, but I remember sitting in the offices at Best Buy and being quite cynical about the whole thing, while others were raving.  Whilst I didn’t doubt the concept of blurring social with real world, my belief was that this would have to be simplified to the extent the user wouldn’t have to do a thing and there was a sufficent reward for them doing so.

For a while I did doubt my own wisdom.  I signed up to Foursquare, after all, if you’re in the industry thats whay you do.  I had Google Wave, Google Buzz, Bebo, MySpace etc etc log-ins but no idea what they are now.  More and more contacts started popping up.  Note I used the word contacts.  It seemed to get quite noisy and then ther integration with Twitter came about and my timeline got loaded with people checking in to shops, sports grounds and fast food outlets.  Frankly it got a little annoying.  The point of the word contact was, most of the interactions were by people I knew in digital or technology, with a few friends who were early adopters.  None of my proper friends could be bothered.

The rewards on offer at the likes of Foursquare just aren’t interesting. Pretty juvenile really becoming the mayor of HMV in Oxford Street.  Apologies to all the various Foursquare mayors I have just offended.  I read with interest the fact that Facebook was closing its Places service, whilst it isn’t completely backing out of geo services it does show that its not the Xanadu some thought it would be.

Maybe Facebook just got it wrong and Foursquare demolished Facebook places.  Ironically the biggest boost Foursquare got to its numbers was when Facebook announced its Places service.  In terms of people looking for Foursquare on Google it would appear that the search volume has already peaked.  The August 2010 Facebook announcement got it mainstream and created the big boost, the numbers levelled but still at a higher than pre-announcement.  Foursquare also had a second boost around April this year when Amazon announced its servers had taken out both Foursquare and Reddit.

Google Trends view on Foursquare search volume

Google Trends view on Foursquare search volume

The light for Foursquare is that although things haven’t really sparked for them in the UK or Europe in general, they are big on technology advanced Asia and the population of Indonesia seem to be searching in their droves.  Some would say we need to treat Google data such as this with some scepticism.  Whilst I wouldn’t pass comment on that, even if you don’t believe the core numbers, the trend is still there.  Backed further by a quick search on Alexa.com where a similar story can be found.

Alexa ranking of Foursquare

The same pattern is true in terms of reach according to Alexa.  The April spike exists in April, but after that, the traffic drops back.  For me this demonstrates a lack of engagement with Foursquare.  Not complete lack of engagement, but low engagement on a relative base to the likes of Twitter and Facebook, its not to say it can’t happen.

My view is that there could still be a place for Foursquare or an equivalent service.  However they need to offer real value to users, something that makes users want to engage or embrace mobile technology to its fullest and minimise the engagement and actions needed in the physical world.  Foursquare and other services such as Gowalla still have a long way to go.  Once somebody has cracked it, the sector could ignite and present great currency for users and no-brainer commercial options for multichannel brands.

Remember the key to all of these platforms is mobile.  With this in mind we need to keep a watching eye on Google, with the rise of G+ and obviously the Android operating system gaining momentum, they could be in a good place to crack it.  If the minds at Google can work out what “it” is.


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Using Social Media in a B2B World

Without a doubt Social Media is a really important element of modern life.  Individuals use it to connect with friends, old acquaintances and even celebrities.  Organisations of all sizes are using the likes of Facebook to make contact with their customers.  This doesn’t appear to change, if anything Social Media is likely to play an increasingly prominent role, especially now that Google states it will use buzz as an influence in its ranking.

When I speak to friends who work in a B2B environment they often ask what can they use it for.  I am also asked the same question when I speak at conferences.

Despite the repeated questions on how should B2B organisations adopt Social Media a Bizreport study outlined some interesting and surprising statistics.  86% of B2B firms already have an active Social Media presence compared to only 82% of B2C companies.  However the same report suggests that those B2B firms aren’t making the most of their presence with 32% engaging with their base on a daily basis, compared to 52% of B2C companies.  This is backed up by the fact that 34% of B2B companies aren’t tracking their activity in any way either.

Gut instinct is the same as if I was in a B2C environment. Use the channels in the way they should be used and create approaches that are right and targeted to your audience. The key thing I would advise anybody to do first however is understand why your business should be in Social Media and what is your aim of being there?  Can you offer the audience something they can’t get elsewhere or provide them with a point of view they don’t easily get.

Once you have defined your sense of being (in Social Media terms) you should integrate it into both your overall business processes and your overall Marketing strategy.  The reason for doing this is to ensure it becomes a part of your everyday activity in your business, automatically enabling you to avoid the pitfall of engaging in the stats in the report.

Perhaps more importantly in B2B than in B2C you really need to define what each channel will be used for.  That being said this is still an important factor in B2C however there is also more of an overlap of channels for B2C.  Remember, just because all the buzz and scale is with the likes of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube you may decide that one or all of these channels are not suitable for your business.

A key part to any social media strategy is the reason for being.  Offer your customers something to engage with, provide a currency that will ensure they want to engage with your company. This will be different depending who your business is, what it does and your position in your sector and with your customers.

For example, if you are perceived as an expert in your field then your strategy will be completely different to if you are purely a distributor of kit.  We need to take one step back to the start of that sentence, the key part is how you are perceived by your customers, not how you perceive yourself.  You don’t need to undertake expensive brand studies just generally ask your customers some new questions, unless you already know the answers.

Obviously in a B2B environment customers are often as concerned by the commercial aspect so if you are in a position to offer something unique for those that engage with you via social media (voucher codes or free services) that could provide a boost to your numbers, however that alone will not necessarily help you achieve your goals unless its a continued programme of activity that provides real additional value.

The whole ethos of being an expert provides real social media gold.  What can you give to your customers that will help interaction and engagement.  A great example is to provide content they wouldn’t get elsewhere.  A builders merchant could provide HowTo guides for builders on ways to save money and time on specific projects such as building a conservatory.

A distributor of electrical components could provide a service to the end user but as an aid for their B2B customers.  The distributor could provide a mash-up of the UK map which is fully searchable and links to electricians in their area, with examples of their work and testimonials.  The distributor in theory could also create income from charging electricians to appear on their platform if scale was achieved.

IT training companies could really demonstrate their expertise by providing a community and forum on their own website where their trainers can answer delegates questions on site and in theory offer clinics at agreed dates to really give in-depth support to their delegates.  This would really add ongoing value to delegates and support them and their employers further in to the lifecycle.

These were just some basic ideas that could be adopted and across a number of sectors.  If you are in a B2B environment, feel free to make contact and I can see if I can devise something specific for you.  Also check out this B2B Social Media infographic


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Social Brands 100 – #sb100

Some time ago I was informed that Best Buy had been nominated to appear in the Social Brands 100 list for our social media efforts in the UK. This was a great honour as the nominations had been sourced from the public.  I personally feel this is a good endorsement for all the hard work myself and the team have put in to make the impact we have had as a new brand.  Special shout has to go to my Social Media Manager, Graeme Cole who is busy on a well earned sabbatical at the moment touring the southern hemisphere. He is back soon.

To find out a couple of weeks ago that we finished fifth was massive for us.  To beat the likes of ASOS and Zappos is a great feeling.  In addition to being the only player in our sector to feature in the Top 100 is a great achievement.

So why have we been placed so highly? For the official answers and scoring criteria see the #sb100 report here.  From a personal perspective I feel we have tried to cover all the basis within social media.

1 On-site

We have created a core community platform that provides forums for customers and/or general visitors to talk about tech or general tech and entertainment related subjects.  In addition we are very transparent with customer service questions and requests for expertise. We rarely moderate and try to do so on a fair basis.

We also have an active blog base which covers, tech, entertainment and updates from Best Buy. I have personally covered the likes of Gadget Show Live and interviewed Suzi Perry and Ortis Deley.  Other great content includes coverage from the Brits and BAFTA ceremonies.

2 Reviews

Reviews come from both the well known aggregator Reevoo but also our own panel of TechXperts. These guys review the latest kit from Energy Monitors to the latest 3D TV.  The platform is also open for members of the public to upload their own video.

3. Social Platforms

We are active on all the major platforms, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  On each of the platforms we tailor the activity to suit the audience.  However we often run competitions, upload photos from events and provide updates and offers for our base.  Perhaps most importantly we encourage customers to ask questions and if need be, give us feedback, no matter how difficult it may be.  We always try to respond quickly and as thoroughly as we can.  We also do it from a personal perspective rather than as a company.

4. Social Commerce

In addition, as reported in NMA we also have a Facebook store, which allows our fan base to check prices, look at the latest kit all from Facebook.

This is just the start for Best Buy in the UK.  We have driven this growth organically without any advertising or promotion to speak of.  We also have a couple more ideas up our sleeves that could help customers engage with us further so watch this space.

Would love to hear what you think of what we have done so far and of course any ideas for the future.  Also, do you think we deserved the lofty position?

Just a final point, I would personally like to thank anybody that nominated us and thank the guys Headstream and the panel for their views and feedback.  Now we just need to aim for higher next time!


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I’m Back!!!

Well this isn’t a quote from a film.  Its to announce I am trying to get back in to my blogging.  Haven’t done it for some time and feel that I have neglected my regular readers.

So first and foremost, apologies for that.

What have I been up to.  Well the main reason for the lack of blog posts is the day job.  Hopefully it won’t have escaped your attention but we have now successfully launched the Best Buy website and of course all the marketing that goes with it.  How has it gone? Well obviously I won’t be revealing any commercials here, but overall the launch and our first peak went well.  We have certainly made a dent on the sector and helped ourself to a fair share.

We have managed to combine social media and acquisition marketing to drive business and traffic to a national website with low brand awareness.  Not a mean achievement.

Anyway enough of this, I have a post in draft which I hope to put live soon.

Take care and feel free to read any previous posts and leave feedback or comments.


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Location, Location, Location

This isn’t a post as a homage to Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp’s property show but more a view on one of the latest developments in online, location based Marketing.

From the rise of geo-targetting on Google. To the regional Tweets on Twitter to probably the fastest emerging elements, Facebook Places and of course FourSquare.  So some commentators question the long-term validity of these mediums as marketing channels. Others distrust the security. Some  however see these emerging channels as unique methods to undertake targetted activity of a stellar level.

In terms of geographical targeted advertising some channels are better than others.  The likes of Google has constantly refined and improved its offer in its core PPC offer but also with the introduction of LBC and within their display (content) network.  Facebook has placed substantial emphasis on developing its advertising platform and using the API there are numerous sophisticated targeting opportunities, not least geo-targetting.  Others, at present, are a lot less sophisticated. Twitter’s advertising platform(currently in its infancy)  is currently only open to a global audience, ensuring no matter how great your promotional message is, at present if your business is domiciled within a particular country, you will suffer unavoidable waste.  If Twitter’s ad platform is in its infancy then, others such as Foursquare, are at best babies or even yet to be conceived.

However, the paid for advertising component is only one thread we need to investigate.  The beauty of social media and the emerging opportunities are the organic methods of targetting.  These organic components are released by the channel owners and brands are actively encouraged to develop or promote on them, as long as it add value to the user base.  Twitter has a great site for developers and like Facebook they understand the benefit the developer community provides to their offer.  So enough of my ramble, what geo-targeting, geo-tagging, location based tools are out there at the moment?

Google Places

Formerly known as Google LBC (Local Business Centre) takes advantage of Googles open API on its map solution.  As a business owner you can simply upload your business with its address and pin it up to Google maps.  This is great, if like most people, your customers search for your locations on Google Maps.  It can also integrate with your PPC.  Great hygeine factor to include, but reliant on people knowing you already.

Google Geo-Targeted PPC

Google has moved a great distance in terms of its geo-targeting for PPC. Its relatively sophisticated PPC engine now allows you to target people in postcodes, towns or areas.  The best part of the latest enhancements is the fact that you can define a bespoke area by placing points on a map.

Facebook Places

Facebook Places is still at the beginning of its journey in the UK.  Whilst no advertising opportunities exist, plenty of organic opportunities are available to companies.  However your brand is much more likely to get referenced if you have a loyal following on Facebook.

FourSquare

This is one of the latest most talked about social applications. Very bascially it is a tool to ping people where you are at the moment, started out as used for places to eat but has quickly spread.  Not really sure it offers much differentiation from Facebook places, but it already has a decent level of uptake.

Twitter

Its only a matter of time before the sponsored elements of Twitter go regionalised.  The fact you can add a location to your tweets means it will go that way.  Then it is obvious targeting will become easier on the platform. At the moment, it is lagging a little behind the others.

What can you do?

So the question for marketeers has to be what can we use these tools for? Aside from the obvious distributing very regional messages, which is obviously of benefit there are other options.  You could make the use of these tools by your customers feel a little viral, offering incentives to them for becoming Mayor or first to mark your location a given number of times. 

You can also mark local events or openings via these mediums and minimise wastage on your promotions.

If you can operate social commerce, these mechanisms in the long-run could provide great opportunities for regional promotions, special events or even the selling of display or open-box items.  You could limit who the messages and promotions are distributed to.  This will not only minimise wastage and provide efficiencies on your effort, but it will reduce the likelihood of poor customer experience, when users from out of district see your promotion.

You should also reaserch the areas properly, there could be simple areas to target within established social media presences.  Think local student unions, Chamber of Commerce and Sports Clubs. These are users bought in to social and their particular interest. If you can get coverage with these communities, you are likely to succeed.

Remember these mediums allow you to provide ultra targeted (based on location) communications. However, remember you have to have a reason to be present. This can be slightly different if you are using the newer advertising based modules.


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Producing Content for Company Websites

What is Content?

One of the key topics that pop up with industry types, affiliates and agencies from an SEO, Social Media and Online PR stance is content.  Before I delve too deeply in to the subject matter, I think its important that I clarify what I mean by content.  This isn’t the standard information about your company.  It isn’t even about content around the products or services you offer, even though those areas are imperative.  In the context of  this post, I mean compelling content that people may want to read regardless of any affinity or lack of with your brand or their current interest in buying from you.

Why provide content?

Well it all depends what your objectives are.  For some organisations additional non-sales related content may be impractical or unworkable.  I can’t think of a single case where it won’t provide some form of benefit.  It’s just whether the scale of the benefit is worth the investment.

In the main, the reasons for providing content can be varied depending on your circumstances.  However you need to be clear of your objectives.

From my perspective the main reasons for providing content include:

Upside on SEO

Social Media SOV

Online PR outreach

Community Building

Providing an authority to your subject matter

Create buzz around your site

Upside on SEO

As well all know there are many black hat techniques to help radically increase your rankings within all of the major search engines (and Google is no exception).  However these techniques are ill-advised and can cause your organisation to be penalised or even delisted by the likes of Google and Bing.

It is also frowned upon to instigate link building campaigns by going out and buying lots of backlinks to artificially inflate your ranking.  Both of these techniques can also cost quite a lot.

So the best way to ensure improvement in search engine rankings is to create a good content plan.  The content should be devised to make it both interesting and relevant to your audience, whilst also providing genuine reasons forbloggers or sites to link to or to like, retweet etc in social networks.  Simple?

If your content strategy is devised purely for SEO reasons then you obviously need to know what terms people are searching on and where the gaps are in your keyword coverage.  You then need to engineer your plan to help build up potential linking on core terms.  The research is the critical element to this area, as you need to know how this element enhances or could potentially distract your overall SEO efforts.

My personal opinion, is that, if you develop content purely for SEO reasons, you are doing something wrong.

Tip 1 – You should provide worthwhile content that people want to read and get links on the merit of the content.  There is no problem in optimising the content for SEO reasons, as long as it doesn’t damage the content for the reader.

Social Media SOV

Your content is like a currency,if quality is good and matched with its frequency.  People will want to read what you produce and in term want to link to it and share with their friends.

Remember if your quality is poor or full of errors there is an equal likelihood that people will link or share your content but with negative container terms.  This doesn’t impact your SOV, in fact,it does increase it.  However it does effect the sentiment which effects both what your community or following think about you but also could impact your search rankings.

Tip 2– Provide simple methods to allow people to share your content.  Options such as Add This buttons or utilise tools such as Facebook Connect on your site

Online PR Outreach

Bloggers are an influential bunch.  But not all of them.  Remember it isn’t always about the bloggers with massive audiences that matter.  If you want reach and awareness then of course go for high-traffic blogs.  It isn’t always the best target however.  You need to create a robust outreach plan, as you would with journalists.  Understand why and how you contact bloggers and take the time to build relationships with them.

Understanding why you are reaching out to a blogger and what benefit you can provide to them is half the battle.  You also need to work out if your objective is reach or to inspire a change in people’s (not the bloggers) perception of your company and the content you produce.

Tip 3 – Personal relationships are important.  Don’t just send SEO friendly Press Releases, it isn’t good for you or the blogger

Community Building

Having a forum and a Facebook presence won’t give you a community.  The only reason you will create a community is by providing your members with currency, a reason to keep coming back.  Whether that is in the form of articles, forum topics or competitions, you have to give them something to get excited about.  Motivate them and influence them to join in or share.  As with the other areas research is important as is a deep understanding of what your community will want.

Why not get your community involved? They are much more likely to share and promote the content if they have been involved.

Post the content where they will want to receive it.  You can’t always put a snippet on your Facebook page and link through to your site, you have to be where they want to receive information.

Tip 4 – Fully research your area and ensure your community needs and motivations are answered.

Providing an authority to your subject matter

As long is your content is good, thorough, provides a point of view and above all creates something your average reader wouldn’t find you will begin to create an authority.   This point of view and authority will help improve your standing with your target audience.  They will start to trust what you are saying and you become the go-to site for your subject matter.  Perhaps more importantly for company sites, the visitor in terms becomes increasingly likely to buy from you as that trust builds.  This trust becomes a perceived brand value for the customer and will help the user make purchase decisions, regardless of channel.

Being an authority figure also ensures that you are referenced much more by the industry and in turn by people in their social networks or on their blogs.  All great SEO.

Tip 5 – If you want to create an authority, only people who genuinely know should write and make the pieces thorough.


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Affiliate Marketing (for Merchants) – Part 1

Affiliate Marketing (For the Merchant)- Part 1

Long gone are the days when affiliates used to solely be one man in his bedroom, hacking about with some clever code.  In addition most merchants are more savvy to the opportunities affiliates can present when working in partnership.  Gone are the easy pickings of brand bidding and in the main, gone are the days when merchants used to treat affiliates as a second-class channel.

Affiliate Marketing is one of the most established online marketing channels.  Affiliation can provide everything from volume of clicks or UVs, e-Mail address collection and most commonly sales or leads.  Part One of my guide is centred around the more novice internet marketing professional, call it a beginners guide if you like.

Working out the commercials

The main benefit the channel provides merchants is a manageable approach to customers where costs can easily be controlled.  Merchants should know their margins and in turn know how much margin they can afford to give in terms of a commission (commission being the operative word, more later).  If the programme operates on a CPA basis the maths are straightforward.  If my product makes retails at £100 and I make 20% margin, my profit is £20.  I then know that if I want a 4:1 return on my spend my CPA would be set at £5.  Simple.  Remember if you are using an affiliate network you need to account for their over-ride (standard industry practice is 30% of commission.  In this case it would be an additional £1.50 (which already negatively effects your ROI.

Tip 1 – When working out your CPA to hit ROI targets, build in any network over-rides or additional costs to understand a true Net CPA and ROI.

Tip 2 – The networks will hate me for saying this, but the over-ride can normally be negotiated (if you are a merchant of either perceived value or revenue potential).

Choosing a network or going direct?

This is an age old debate within the sector.  The majority of merchants use an affiliate agency such as Affiliate Window or Commission Junction.  The benefits of using a network (even if you have an internal affiliate team) are numerous.  The major ones from my experience are the fact that payment to affiliates and expensive programme admin are taken care of.  Affiliates are a networks business and as such the platforms are built to take into account affiliate needs (much cheaper than merchants doing it from scratch).  Finally, the fact that the networks know all the affiliates and should be able to guide you on who to partner with.  They can also do some of the lengthy selling-in and negotiation with both established and up and coming affiliates, that direct merchants may not be aware of.

But what about Amazon?  Yes Amazon are one of the key success stories in terms of going direct.  However their entire model (as a vanilla pureplay) meant that they could set the system up from scratch.  The prices and range are so broad that affiliates fight to work with Amazon, rather than the opposite way round with a majority of merchants.

The main benefit of the Amazon approach is that they know their categories better than any network ever can.  They also know their stock and pricing in real-time rather than relying on a third party to update feeds.  They can speak passionately about promotions and campaigns and the affiliates hear it directly.

Tip 3 – Take the best of both approaches. Use the networks to manage and administer the account but work jointly on relationships with key affiliates

That leads me neatly on to the point I told you to keep an eye out for in the earlier post.

Commission

Affiliates will always want more as this is their bread and butter.  Merchants will inevitably want to pay less as it hits their margins.

My view is that if you treat the outlay as commission you should hit a fair level.  I have always considered my top revenue driving affiliates as a virtual sales force.  They are my sales people out on the road that can get people’s attention and drive them to my virtual shop window.

Like a physical sales force, this virtual salesforce will be motivated by money.  However the virtual sales force may be even more motivated by the commission they can earn.  This isn’t due to greed but related to the fact that the majority of this virtual salesforce has to place their own investment in.  That may be monetary through Google adwords or through effort and opportunity cost through the likes of SEO or social media.

Whilst your virtual sales force will be reactive to the commission structures you put in place and any additional incentives, the majority are also pragmatic enough to realise that you can only reach a certain level, before it becomes impossible for you to maintain.

As with physical sales forces, incentives can prove extremely motivational.  A push to go the extra mile.  Whether that is by taking advantage of a sponsorship property you have and offering tickets.  Inviting affiliates to attend a bespoke event or cold hard cash.  All can influence an affiliate.  However with the more experiential incentives, you shouldn’t necessarily expect a parallel increase in revenue.

Tip 4 – Treat your affiliates as a virtual sales force. Reward them and the commission negotiations are normally easier and fairer all round.

Types of affiliates

As I said in the intro of the post, gone are the days of one man in his bedroom trying to earn a quick buck.  Nowadays, affiliates are some of the brightest online marketers or smartest developers.  You must define your strategy and decide what affiliates you should work with and to what level and on what basis.  Below are a few examples of different types of affiliates

Cashback – this is possibly the biggest area of growth within affiliate marketing.  Sometimes thought of as the pariah within the affiliate community, the growth is in part due to the economic climate.  Essentially, these affiliates pass on all or part of the commission you give them, directly back to the customer.  Sites such as Quidco and TopCashBack fit into this category

Loyalty – the name is slightly misleading in terms of the loyalty is normally with the affiliate and little loyalty will be passed on to the merchant.  Essentially working in the same way as Cashback, except rather than cold hard cash being placed into a customers bank account, points are awarded.  Examples of these are Nectar and Airmiles.

Voucher Codes – if Cashback sites are though of by some affiliates as pariahs, then voucher codes are seen as bandits.  Essentially these sites provide details of all the codes available, people click on a link to reveal the code and generally a cookie is placed on the customer’s PC, meaning that affiliate gets the commission.  Its at this point I feel compelled to say that these views are not my own.  Both Cashback and voucher code sites perform specific roles within a merchants mix.  Whilst I accept some cannibalisation will take place, there are a number of customers that wouldn’t buy without this bargain mechanic.  Examples of this type of affiliate include MyVoucherCodes and VoucherCodes.co.uk

PPC – there are some affiliates that specialise in PPC (sponsored terms in the search engines).  PPC can be a grey area in affiliates and you need to have strict control over who can bid and on what terms.  If you don’t have a PPC agency or any internal expertise, these affiliates can provide great top-up resource to your own PPC activity

Tip 5 – Understand your PPC strategy and place clear T&Cs in your programme on PPC restrictions, such as brand bidding, using your brand name in the URL, direct linking etc

Content – this is potentially where affiliates started out.  People generally with a personally interest, creating great content that they just want people to read.  These sites then realised that they could potentially make money from their sites and started selling advertising.  This could be anything from one person with their site on a topic of personal interest such as making orange food, to more established content sites such as The Sun.  Although blogs are rightly considered social media, I would place them in this section.  Nowadays blogs seem to be more geared towards providing useful content and information as opposed to the web log (diary) approach that was intended.

Price Comparison – another type of affiliate that isn’t normally relevant to all merchants is Price Comparison.  The standard of these types of sites are varied.  Some use bespoke software that allows them to scrape the web for up to date prices and deals.  The others (more akin to traditional price comparison engines) take a feed once a day and produce pricing information.  Networks have developed increasingly sophisticated tools to simplify the process for affiliates to add Price Comparison functionality to their content (the best example being Affiliate Window’s, Shop Window).  There are some broad price comparison engines available through affiliate networks, however the more successful ones for merchants tend to be the more focussed engines such as Whiteboxdeals, a Price Comparison engine specialising in large domestic appliances such as washing machines and ovens.

Social Media – with the low cost of entry of social media and the advances in affiliate technology from networks means a new wave of affiliates are emerging.  These are the ones that have embraced the newer technologies such as Twitter and Facebook.  Whilst all the research indicates that recommendation by a friend, either in person or online, is the most powerful tool, please be aware.  Some people using social media tools are not just making recommendations to their network but creating brand accounts.  This is especially true in Twitter where minimal dev work is needed.  That being said, there are a number of affiliates that have made social media work and come up with creative solutions or use an established network.

Tip 6 – If you consider using Social Media affiliates, ensure your T&Cs are very clear in terms of people using your brand name.  Also, vet applications very carefully.  Some people end up spamming contacts, which reflects badly on the merchant.

OK, so that’s it for Part 1.  In part 2 I get a bit more practical, rather than just an introduction.  I will look at what types of affiliates different sectors/merchants could be best placed using.  I will look at which affiliates and approaches you could use for different stages of a business of product lifecycle and I will also review the methods of building relationships and rapport with affiliates either directly or through the networks.  I may even explore the age-old debate about single Vs multiple network.  If there is anything else you would like me to cover leave me a comment here.

Finally, here is a recap of the tips

Tip 1 – Build in all costs to determine CPA (inc network over-ride)

Tip 2 – Negotiate your network over-ride

Tip 3 – Take a collaborative approach with your network to managing affiliate relationships

Tip 4 – Treat your affiliates as a virtual sales force

Tip 5 – Understand your own PPC strategy and reflect this in your PPC T&Cs

Tip 6 – Have clear T&Cs on affiliate use of Social Media and tightly manage applications

If there is anything else you would like me to cover leave me a comment here.


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Measuring Return On Social Media

Measuring Return on Social Media Presence

This has been the fear/worry/challenge/competitive edge of almost every company that has any form of social media presence.  From a simple company Facebook page to a fully integrated Social Media strategy.  Speak to a number of agencies or many online marketers and they will tell you it can’t be measured beyond the simple metrics such as number of fans or followers.  Perhaps at the incubation stage and to a degree the baby stage that was correct.  However now social media has grown up a little, into a healthy little toddler things have changed.

In theory you can’t directly measure the impact of a brand TV commercial, but companies do.  It is the same for social media.

Remember the strategy

A lot of talk is around the utopian idea of getting an ROI from your social media spend or presence.  However for some brands this isn’t just a case of pounds in the till Vs pounds handed out to agencies or media owners such as MySpace.  As with any channel development or Marketing activity, you need to understand what you want to get out of your social media presence.  Your strategy may be a simple one that only looks at your impact within the channel, therefore a basic upwards trending number of fans may suffice.  Your strategy maybe to increase UVs to your core website, as such you need to measure the referrals from your social media presence.  Like a TV ad you maye be trying to influence brand perception so you would look at traditional brand metrics such as awareness and consideration.  Some strategies require an emphasis on loyalty or ROI, these can be much more difficult to prove, however not impossible.

Just consider before developing any tactics or implementation, what your objectives and goals are.  Then measure.

Understanding the basics

When measuring against any goals you need to understand what is your norm or otherwise known as the baseline.  You need to look at any pre-strategy figures and work out your norm, or the contribution you can expect without implementing your strategy.  This baseline should be measured over a long period of time to take into account one-off fluctuations, seasonality and peaks – you should then use a trend line and determine your norm.

Once you have claculated your norm, it is easier to determine what the goals from your objectives should be.  If for instance your site has 10,000 UVs a week then to expect a 100% uplift from a strong social media strategy may not be impossible.  However if your site gets 100,000 UVs a week, it may be more difficult to gain a 100% uplift, although not impossible.  This seems really basic stuff but it is often forgotten. I have spoken to Managing Directors and Marketing Directors that think because there are millions of people on social network they should be talking telephone numbers in terms of traffic uplift, sadly it doesn’t work like that.  It may be easier to get a massive groundswell if your activity is in the channel the people use, you could get a massive following on Twitter as the people are already there and its their environment, rather than expecting them to come to you.

Anyway, once you know the norm of whatever metric you want to track you can more easily identify any uplift from your activity.  However it may not be all down to the new strategy, other factors might be in play, that is why it is advisable to implement a good web analytics tool.  Omniture is widely regarded as one of the better packages along with Coremetrics, however if you have your own site or limited budget then Google Analytics may suffice.

OK, but now what?

So you know what you want to get out of your strategy and you have worked out the basics, but now what?  Sit back and watch everything work away and drive you towards your goals or personal bonus.  Not eaxactly.  Sometimes people expect immediate results.  Stick it on Facebook and they will come.  If they don’t see an uplift straight away, the strategy has failed.  Wrong.  Well potentially wrong.  Remember when working in social channels you are entering the end users territory.  You have to earn the right to be there.  Give them something to talk about, make yourself interesting, but don’t make things up.

So what do I do?

Don’t look at things with immediacy in mind.  When you create a coupon for your affiliate network or raise your bid caps in Google you can often see an immediate (or quick) effect.  However you need a longer view with Social and you need to look at things outside of your specific influence.  A great area to explore is Social Media Influence or Buzz Metrics.  There are various tools and service with varying levels of robustness and credibility.  In the UK there are market leaders such as Market Sentinel and Nielsen Buzz Metrics.  There are also some freebie or cheaper tools such as Viral Heat and PostRank Analytics.  These cheaper tools are sometimes less robust or feature on a specific platform such as Twendz.  What all of these tools have in common is that to varying degrees they track what is being said about your brand or site on other platforms rather than just looking at core measures such as visits or upstream and downstream traffic.

The majority measure trends and SoV, some measure snetiment and others rank influence on brands and/or topics.  All of these are important as although your activity may not imemdiately increse traffic, it may improve the sentiment towards your brand, increasing peoples’ perception of your brand and in turn increase their potential to engage or buy.  These tools can also aid your search activity.  As product or brand experts you might think you know what people type in about your brand, however more comprehensive tools help you identify what people are typing or saying about your product.  Giving you more insight into which words you you optimise or focus on in paid search.

But can I make money from it?

Well as I wrote at the beginning of the piece remember what your objectives are.  The short answer is yes, you can make money from social media and yes social media can increase users propensity to buy, however your activity may not lend itself to that.  But various surveys have taken place that demonstrate you can specifically get an ROI from your social media presence.  According to a recent survey by eMarketer, c. 51% of US internet users are likely buy from at least one brand since becoming a fan on Facebook.   When it comes to would they recommend to a friend the number increases to 60%.  That is one indication of an increased propensity to buy.

Before you all clamber out and create or refresh your Facebook page, Forrester outlined a stark statistic.  More than one third of online users visit at least one brands social media presence, yet less than half rated the experience rated their experience as having a positive influence.  One method that the likes of Starbucks and Dell use within their social media presence is exclusive offers and promotions.  It is this sense of providing something special for fans that makes the experience positive and influence future buying behaviour.